Ministers and Mandarins

  • Leslie Hannah


The Clow episode showed how much the Whitehall view of the permissible level of intervention in the affairs of public corporations had changed since before the War. The relationship between Ministers and the new Electricity Boards, though laid down by statute, was not rigidly specified, but large powers of fuel policy coordination, and of oversight of finance and general policy, were given to the Minister. He could use these to intervene on virtually any aspect of policy, though, in practice, as we have seen, his prospect of imposing a policy against the united opposition of the Boards was slim, and there was a widespread commitment to at least the principle of independent management for public corporations. None the less, this was a significant change from the days of the old CEB, which (though hedged about by precise legal requirements on matters such as pricing) had not been subject to government limits on finance (choosing to raise its fixed-interest capital without government guarantee) and had ignored ministerial requests when it felt they were unjustified (being protected against the sanction acquired by the Minister in 1947: the power of dismissal). The rule of law in the 1926 Act had, in a real sense, been replaced in 1947 by the rule of the Minister. The examples given in Parliament 1 of areas where the Minister would feel free to intervene — the military implications of power station siting, research policy and the development of rural supplies — were to be only a small part of ministerial initiatives in the evolving relationship between the alternative centres of decisionmaking power enshrined in the Act.


Interest Rate Central Authority Replacement Cost Investment Resource Rural Electrification 
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Notes and References

  1. 2.
    Lord Citrine, Two Careers (1967) p. 348.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See e.g. the quotation from Jay at the head of the chapter (p. 41, above), and C. A. R. Crosland, The Future of Socialism, 1964 edition, pp. 316–8.Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Sir Norman Chester, The Nationalisation of British Industry 1945–1951 (1975) p. 997.Google Scholar
  4. 6.
    P. Williams, Hugh Gaitskell, A Political Biography (1979) p. 145.Google Scholar
  5. 9.
    J. Cross, ‘The Lynskey Tribunal’, in M. Sissons and P. French (eds) The Age of Austerity 1945–51 (1963).Google Scholar
  6. 11.
    Acton Society Trust, Accountability to Parliament (1950).Google Scholar
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    Williams, op. cit., p. 241; H. Dalton, Principles of Public Finance, 4th edn (1954) pp. 234–7;Google Scholar
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    W. A. Lewis in W. A. Robson, Problems of Nationalised Industry (1951) p. 183;Google Scholar
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  12. For a somewhat more optimistic view of the contracyclical investment tendencies of the nationalised industries see A. Silberston, ‘Nationalised Industries, Government Intervention and Industrial Efficiency’, in D. Butler and A. H. Halsey (eds) Policy and Politics: Essays in Honour of Norman Chester (1978).Google Scholar
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    Calculated from C. H. Feinstein, National Income, Expenditure and Output of the United Kingdom 1855–1965 (Cambridge, 1972 ) pp. T92–3.Google Scholar
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    The locus classicus is I. M. D. Little, The Price of Fuel (Oxford, 1953) see e.g. p. 155.Google Scholar
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    See e.g. Proceedings of the British Electrical Power Convention 1951, pp. 19–20; ibid. 1953, pp. 111, 246. See also J. J. Carré, P. Dubois, and E. Malinvaud, French Economic Growth (1976) pp. 562–3.Google Scholar
  17. 31.
    The general point on the relative importance of allocative efficiency as against technical efficiency is usefully made in this context in R. Pryke, Public Enterprise in Practice (1971) pp. 408–12. Another reasonable point, made at the time by the industry, was that the peak was actually met by obsolete plant (which would otherwise have been scrapped) not by new investment, which was worthwhile only for loads of longer duration.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Electricity Council 1982

Authors and Affiliations

  • Leslie Hannah
    • 1
  1. 1.London School of EconomicsUK

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